Overturned tables and other destruction caused by vandals at the Friends of Sausal Creek plant nursery in Joaquin Miller Park. Credit: Courtesy of Friends of Sausal Creek

This piece was produced by Bay Nature, a nonprofit, independent media organization that connects the people of the San Francisco Bay Area to the natural world.

When Ella Matsuda got to the Friends of Sausal Creek nursery in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park around 3:45 pm on Jan. 20, it looked as if a natural disaster had blown through. 

Tender seedlings lay strewn across the ground and crushed beneath overturned workbenches, and pipes had been yanked out of the ground. Vandals had apparently clambered over a downed tree on the back fence and scattered the nursery’s 4,000 plants in broad daylight during the four hours Matsuda had been away. 

“It was heartbreaking,” says Peter Van der Niellen, a regular FOSC volunteer who came the day after to help re-pot plants. “This must have been a group of people, because those benches are heavy, and it was total destruction.”

“What’s most disappointing to me is just the disrespect to all of the volunteer time that has been put in here,” says Matsuda, nursery manager at FOSC. “The plants will come back.”

At least 600 seedlings were lost, and the organization estimates material damages as high as $8,000. It may take hundreds of hours of volunteer time to restore the nursery, Matsuda estimated. 

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Friends of Sausal Creek is a restoration organization with three staff, and hundreds of volunteers. The 26-year-old organization has supplied thousands of native plants to over 26 restoration sites along the Sausal Creek watershed throughout Oakland—plants such as Douglas irises, wild strawberries, honeysuckle, California poppies, various native grasses, and berry bushes. The FOSC nursery volunteers collect and grow seeds from Oakland parks, including endangered species like the pallid manzanita—which is only found in the East Bay, with 75% of the entire population found along Sausal Creek. 

Sausal Creek begins in Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills, flows down through the city out to Fruitvale and later the estuary. It ends at San Francisco Bay. The creek is home to native rainbow trout, which rely on creek banks stabilized by the native species planted there. 

FOSC has also worked to daylight Sausal Creek through Diamond Canyon park, implementing an erosion prevention program and enhancing green spaces for flood mitigation during rainstorms. In addition to restoration, FOSC’s environmental education program partners with youth organizations and provides field trips to low-income schools for youth to get involved in the green spaces and restoration efforts in their own backyard. In 2019, about 1,300 Oakland students participated in FOSC programming.

Overturned pots containing ferns and other native plants. Credit: Courtesy of Friends of Sausal Creek

“They can come out for a three-hour field trip that involves working in the ground, planting plants or removing invasives, doing hikes, learning about the trout water quality, learning about our endangered species,” says Anna Marie Schmidt, executive director of FOSC. 

FOSC filed a report with Oakland Police on the vandalism, but no officers visited the site. The day after the destruction, about 40 volunteers gathered at the nursery to flip the tables back up and save as many crushed and scattered plants as possible. 

“That’s one of my favorite things about this organization,” says Matsuda. “We just have such an incredible community that is here to pick us back up anytime.”

Want to help? Check out Friends of Sausal Creek’s volunteer page.